Ken Ching See-ho is founder and director of Eco-education and Resources Centre, an organisation aimed at promoting eco-tourism in Hong Kong. He is also director of EcoTour Travel, a company providing ecological tours in Hong Kong and other parts of the world.
How did you come to set up the centre? This all began in 1989 when I finished Form Five and had a chance to study in Australia. Unfortunately, my father had a heart attack, so I decided to stay in Hong Kong and help run my family business, which sold scientific and medical equipment. I also did stints as a part-time tour guide.
In 1995, I went diving in Bali and remember marvelling at the beautiful sights underwater, with so many pretty fish swimming around. I started to realise I wasn't very interested in the family business. I wanted to do something I liked. I loved nature, so I decided to start an ecological tour company. That was in 1996.
I set up the centre in 2002 to raise awareness of the environment and conduct research on Hong Kong's ecology - information that we then use to organise tours at my company and to explain to people what they see on the tours. What is ecological tourism about? It’s definitely not about the tourist. Ecotourism encompasses issues such as souvenir development, waste control, and hotel management. The most important aspect is education. Ecotourism is an essence an environmental education programme. We show people nature, and let them understand why we want to protect our environment. It’s not only a holiday.
What challenges did you face in developing your ecotourism business? The biggest challenge we faced was that at the time everybody thought that ecotourism was just about going to a nature reserve to admire the pretty plants and animals. People don’t understand the difference between a real ecological tour and just any day tour that any tour operator can arrange. We explain to people the importance of protecting Hong Kong beautiful ecology, and we do a lot of research which we use to explain to people the behaviour of animals they see on ecological tours that they go on.
Has that changed? Before 2003, people liked to stay indoors and enjoy air conditioning. When Sars broke out, people were afraid to be in confined spaces with each other in fear that they might catch the disease from the re-circulated air. That coincided with the publication of a series of books in Hong Kong by the Agricultural Fisheries and Conversation Department, and people started going outside and discovering the beautiful nature.
How much more business do you get now? Before Sars we did maybe two to three tours a month. Afterwards, it shot up to 15 a month.
How do you see eco-tourism developing in Hong Kong? It's going to be an uphill battle unless the government makes it a high priority. We have reached a limit on the size of the market, which is hard to break unless the government designates places where eco-tourism can be developed - such as Tung Ping Chau and Tai O - as restricted areas, just like it has with Mai Po. If that happens, we will see a new dawn. What's you advice for young people? The most important thing is to find your interest. When you are a tour guide, you are also an educator in environmental protection. If you are not interested in nature, you won't be able to explain properly and attract people to listen and think about why they want to protect the environment.
Ten Outstanding Young Persons (2006)
Consultant, Hong Kong Young Women's Christian Association, Tai O Cultural and Ecological Integrated Resource Centre (since 2007)
Chairman, Ocean Touch Conservation Association (since 2010)